It's a delicate balancing act, a game like Mercenaries 2. Level structure and level destruction go hand-in-hand to create a "Build your own rubble" approach, blessing the player with immense freedom without ever letting things degenerate into pointless anarchy. It's also very, very funny, delighting in exaggerated character humour and the slapstick termination of baddos and environment alike while deftly side-stepping parody or adolescent stupidity. And while the single-player campaign levels we've played admirably provide giggle after explosive, napalm-scented giggle, nowhere will you experience the true joys the game presents better than in online co-op mode.
With so much overkill potential at your fingertips and a world of chain-reaction physics and destructible everything to play with, Mercs 2 is like that bad-influence best friend you had as a kid; always egging you on to jump out of that huge tree or put that firecracker in the bag of poop, just to see what will happen. The reward and sense of satisfation the game lavishes upon you for simply making a nuisance of yourself actually rivals and even beats some of the finer moments of Grand Theft Auto IV.
And just like when you were a kid, once the panic and fear of dismemberment has passed, you'll be filled with the smug satisfaction that only comes from being completely irresponsible, leaving a big mess and getting away with it. And the only way to possibly improve that life-affirmingly anarchic buzz, as always, is to share it with a partner in crime.
It's a friendly game that wants you to enjoy yourself. The tools, physics and destructibility of the world are designed to bring about carnage and laughter in equal measure. The vehicles handle exactly as you feel they should, and the overall level of control in the game offers not a single barrier to you doing exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it. And co-operative mode somehow manages to be even more than double the laughs.
Factor in co-op achievements for the 360 version which can only be earned by teaming up with a partner, as well as viral achievements which have to be 'caught' by playing with someone who already has them, and it's clear where Pandemic's focus for Mercs 2 lies. And they're absolutely right to encourage us to share the frenzy. Because while yes, it’s epic, and yes, it’s sweeping, and yes, it’s immersive, it’s also very, very fun.